What Nigerian songwriters must know about music publishing

The Nigerian music industry has gained momentum over the years and received global recognition, with many artistes collaborating with international artists and winning awards.

Many upcoming artists and songwriters don’t have an idea of how to go about sorting royalties and publishing deals that are meant for them – which is a major challenge affecting the growth of the industry. Some music industry experts have outlined the problems facing music publishing and how they can be addressed.

Godwin Tom, managing director of Sony Music Publishing Nigeria, raised the issue of having the wrong people working in publishing companies.

He said good people are willing to do what is needed to help the artist make a good name for the publishing company. “A good company can become bad simply because bad people are running it.”

He said that at Sony, what they do is not just sign people but to know the people they are signing. “Many people look at the matrix and the numbers, which are important to note because it determines the value that is put in on the work of the composer, but at the same time, the problem with that mindset is that the moment your numbers start getting down, then there they have no reason to care because the reason why they cared in the first place is because of the numbers,” Tom said.

An organisation regardless of how big they are can’t sign everyone and as such experts have recommended that people need to start thinking of how to support local businesses. They say if the big companies can’t sign an artist at a particular time, they can recommend a smaller publishing company with a good standard who they trust to have the composer’s best interest at heart. “As you grow and you get to the point where I’m able to look into your catalogue and your career, I can easily make an offer to you or to that company to figure out an opportunity for both of us,” Tom said.

Janet Odunoye, a lawyer involved in licencing and publishing admin at PlugNG, told BusinessDay that up-and-coming artists or composers should go for a complete publishing deal because they will need the perks that come with it, as long as the agreed terms with the music publishing company are fair and favourable to them and their legal team.

“When you become more established or you’ve authored big trending hits, international music publishing companies will approach you for deals and a possible advance; this is why it’s very pertinent for a Nigerian composer to sign up with a music publishing company early on in their career,” she said.

Odunoye said artists must be more proactive in sorting their publishing so they don’t lose money.

She said: “I believe there has to be a shift in the mindset of most Nigerian artists and how they handle their business. Most Nigerian artists are not very much involved in the business or legal aspect of their music or craft because they think they are making enough money when in reality they are losing some money; it’s a different thing if making music is a hobby to them and there are no concrete plans to make money from their talent and music. As long as making money is part of the plan, you as an artist need to engage a lawyer and demand to be carried along in the business aspect of your music.

“It’s in the process of active involvement in knowing what publishing entails, signing up with music publishing companies, registering their works with performing rights societies and doing their research to see how they are being paid will education then be achieved.”

According to her, music publishing is a wealth creation avenue because the artist is getting royalties, the publishing companies are getting paid and the government is collecting taxes “but we don’t have a law that talks about music publishing or guides the affairs of music publishing”.

Sony Music boss urged music publishing companies to protect their artistes to ensure they get their fair share. “We have expectations of artistes that are sometimes unrealistic; as a business person, you think logically but as a creative, you think emotionally, which is why there is a show side and business side.”

He said the moment artistes start getting paid because they are protected by more competent systems, they become more curious and ask more questions, which makes the conversation easier to have.

Odunoye said to secure deals from international publishing companies, artists should pitch their songs if they are good enough and hope for a positive reply. “If you think your song is good enough, pitch it to international publishing companies; they can even reach out to you if you have good stuff and you put yourself out there.”

Read also: Nigerian female artists take centre stage on music global scene

She said a Nigerian music publishing company will usually get into a sub-publishing or co-publishing agreement with an international publishing company like Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing or Warner Chappell, adding that these sorts of arrangements would further advance the interest of a Nigerian composer signed with a Nigerian music publishing company.

Though the government does have a part to play in the music publishing business, there are organisations set up to handle mechanical rights. The Copyright Society of Nigeria and Music Copyright Society of Nigeria MCSN are more inclined towards mechanical royalties.

They administer performing and mechanical rights on behalf of their members who do so by licensing music users such as television and radio broadcasters, live music venues, retailers, restaurants, promoters and shopping centres, through the collection of licence fees, which are then distributed as royalties. The MCSN, for instance, is governed by the Copyrights Acts (Cap C.28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN 2004)) and an approved Collecting Management Organisation on the statutory authority of the Nigerian Copyright Commission.

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